At the end of the 2017/18 season Huddersfield RUFC was ranked fifth in Yorkshire in the league standings. Three of the clubs above them were the county’s full time professional teams playing Championship rugby and the other, Hull Ionians, has just dropped back a level to re-join Huddersfield in National 2 North.
The recent success at Lockwood Park has been built to a very large extent on home grown players with nine of last season’s first team regulars having come through the club’s thriving Age Grade and Academy system. Although the team’s current status has made Huddersfield something of a ‘go to’ club for West Yorkshire’s rugby talent the development and progression of its own young players is something the Huddersfield club is keen to maintain.
Youngsters are introduced to the sport at an early age where the emphasis is on having fun. Children progress through the Age Grade following the RFU guidelines with accredited coaches leading the teams. The Academy team offers the pathway to senior rugby when players reach the age of 17.
This year’s Academy coaching team is being led by the highly experienced Mike Baggs, assisted by Geoff Burrell, father of England international Luther. ‘It is an honour to coach the Academy and great to see lads I’ve worked with turning out for the senior sides, it’s all about creating a pride in the shirt. We have a large and talented squad with great potential and I am very hopeful that many of them will go on to represent Huddersfield at senior level, whether in the 1st, 2nd or 3rd team. The ‘pathway’ is vital for the long term sustainability of the club on many different levels.’
Huddersfield Academy have been recent Yorkshire champions and are current holders of the Yorkshire Bowl. Last year’s Under 17 team, which has just progressed into the Academy, were Yorkshire champions three years running in their passage through the junior age groups and Baggs is optimistic about his team’s prospects. ‘We had a very positive first pre-season training session and all the boys have bought into the summer gym work. We will be competing in the top Yorkshire league and have set ourselves high expectations and captain Leighton Davis will be a great leader. Our Under 18’s are looking forward to stepping up to senior rugby at some stage this season.’
Last season ex-Academy skipper and Number 8 Harry Woodhouse made the breakthrough to first team rugby making several highly effective appearances. His younger brother Fred, who plays centre, is one of the lads waiting in the Academy wings looking to follow suit. This season former Academy scrum half Joe Stott, full back Arthur Wilkinson and lock Peter Hampshire have been put on contract and are now training with the seniors under the direction of Head Coach Gaz Lewis. Lewis himself was a former Huddersfield junior who returned to play and coach at his home town club having moved away to play National League rugby. Three of the four teams he represented at Level 3 are now below Huddersfield in the leagues and Lewis is one of many working hard to ensure that the town’s young players can achieve their rugby ambitions to the full at home.
CARNEGIE QUARTET READYING FOR THE CHAMPIONSHIP.
Four young players who represented Huddersfield in National 2 North last season are now engaged in active pre-season training with the Yorkshire Carnegie Championship squad. Half backs Harry Davey and Ollie Fox, winger Rian Hamilton and centre Sam Allen all gained valuable national league experience on dual registration with the Lockwood Park club. Fly half Davey was Huddersfield’s leading points scorer with 150 to his credit and was named NCA Rugby ‘National 2 North Young Player of Year’. He also enjoyed NCA ‘Try of the Week’ and ‘Player of the Week’ accolades during his time at Huddersfield.
Richard Sykes, Rugby Union Correspondent, Huddersfield Daily Examiner.